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County to spend $1.6 million on energy efficiency

2013-03-10T00:00:00Z County to spend $1.6 million on energy efficiencyBy AL KNAUBER Independent Record Helena Independent Record
March 10, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Drafty windows, leaky door seals, inefficient heating systems and old lights that aren’t all that bright are among what’s going to save Lewis and Clark County $77,000 a year.

The county commission on Thursday signed a $1,624,000 contract with a nationwide energy services company that will handle the design and construction of energy improvements to about 30 county-owned buildings across the county.

The money that the county is taking from its capital reserves fund to finance the work will be repaid through the energy savings each year, said Eric Bryson, the county’s administrative officer.

The payback on the project will be completed in 15 years, Bryson added.

Once the county has repaid itself, it will have the money available to tap for future projects, said Brian Solan, Ameresco’s business manager for Montana who opened an office in the Penwell Building on Sixth Avenue.

The county’s annual energy bill, he added, is currently in the range of $500,000.

The county bought only the services it needed when negotiating the con-tract, he said, agreeing that they drove a hard bargain.

“They were very concerned about their costs and wanted to know they were getting the best bang for their dollar and they did,” Solan said.

Work is tentatively set to begin later this month and meeting will be held with those who work in and manage the county buildings so schedules for crews can be created to avoid disruptions.

While the easiest of the project will start soon, such as those involving insulation, doors, windows and lights, projects that call for replacing heating systems won’t happen until the weather is warmer, Solan said.

Among these projects will be to retire the heat pumps at the law enforcement center. The pumps are 30 years old and at the end of a mechanical life that typically lasts between 20 and 25 years.

The senior citizens center in Lincoln will see improvements as a result of this contract, as will a facility in Augusta.

Buildings used for libraries in both towns as well as those used by the county’s road department and the sheriff’s office are also on the list for energy-efficiency upgrades.

The Wolf Creek building that’s home to the highway department will also be made more cozy for its crew.

In Helena, the fairgrounds will see improvements as will other buildings including the Myrna Loy Center, the law enforcement center and an array of buildings that serve the county’s road department

When the work is finished by Oct. 1 – Solan said it should be completed be-fore the date specified in the contract — buildings won’t be as drafty or dark and the oldest of the mechanical systems that heat or cool them will be changed out.

The new fluorescent tubes, in addition to providing better light, will last 20 percent longer than the ones currently in use.

The upcoming work represents the culmination of two years of planning and discussion.

The county wanted to be careful before making a decision to spend its capital reserves, Bryson explained. A review of funds moved future energy saving projects ahead to help create the scope of work that is going to start soon.

The decision to initiate the energy improvements came after an initial audit in 2011 that laid the groundwork for a more in-depth examination in 2012 of where energy savings could be realized, which cost $45,000, Bryson said.

While it’s Ameresco’s responsibility to hire the subcontractors, the county has asked that local companies be used although it has no control on whom is selected by Ameresco, Bryson added.

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